17 February 2015

Bounty Land Warrants Go to Heirs Not Debtors in 1859

An earlier post mentioned searching newspapers for references to ancestral associates. While searching for information on man to whom a relative assigned a warrant, I came across the following newspaper item from 1859:

[from the St. Albans (Vermont) Messenger 12 May 1859]

1) That the bounty land warrants issued by the United States are declared by the act of Congress, approved June 3, 1858, to be personal property. 

2) That such warrant cannot be sold by an administrator of the estate of the deceased warrantee, for the payment of debts contracted by such warrantee.

3) That such warrants, when issued during the lifetime of the warrantee, and not disposed of by him, become, if he die intestate, the property of his heirs-at-law, in accordance with the law of the domicil, and cannot be attached and sold for the payment of his debts. [If he dies intestate, see fifth paragraph following.]

5) [sic] Warrants issued after the death of the warrantee, but upon proof filed during his life-time, become the property of his widow, if there be one; and if no widow, then the property of his heirs-at-law, without regard to their age.

5) The proceeds of the sale of a warrant made by an administrator is the absolute property of the widow herself, or legatees, without regard to any debt contracted by the warantee; but the practice of this office has been to recognize assignments properly made by an administrator for distribution of the  proceeds among the heirs-at-law, after payment of the funeral and proper court expenses. 
[Attorney's and administrator's fees, not taxed by the court, are not regarded as proper court expenses.]

6) The rules of this office require, in all cases, when a warrant has been sold by an executor that a duly certified copy of the will, with letters testamentary, shall be attached to the warrant; and in cases where a sale is made by an administrator or guardian, that certified copies of the letters of administration or guardianship shall be attached; and that the sale has been made for the use of the heirs only must be shown either in the assignment or in the papers submitted with each case.

[end transcription]

What does this mean? 

It appears that bounty land warrants in the possession of a deceased warrant holder were to be considered personal property instead of real property. This makes sense as warrants were not documents that transferred title to any specific real property. They were vouchers which could be redeemed for a tract of a specific acreage amount within the federal lands. 

If an executor, administrator, or guardian were to sell a warrant owned by a deceased warrant holder, certified copies of their appointment as executor, administrator, or guardian were to be included along with the surrendered warrant. The executor, administrator, or guardian may also have submitted a certified copy of the court order authorizing the sale of the warrant as well. 

So...in burned record counties where no local records exist, copies of some estate papers may appear in the surrendered warrant file along with the warrant. Of course, all surrendered warrants which were sold and assigned by an executor, administrator, or guardian should include this paperwork.

Some of the "best" federal land claims, from a genealogical standpoint, are those where the warrantee or out right purchaser (in the case of land sales) died before the process could be completed. 

The bounty land warrant James Kile of Mercer County, Illinois, received for his War of 1812 service was one such warrant. It was inventoried in his estate and sold by his administrator-along with all the concomitant paperwork as discussed in the newspaper article. We'll post a few images of that record in upcoming blog posts. 

The upside for the heirs of a federal land warrant holder were that the warrant could not be sold to pay his debts---at least according to this newspaper article. 

Sometimes it pays to search sites such as  GenealogyBank and the Chronicling America collection for more than just ancestors--and to browse through articles in those papers besides ones that include your ancestor's name. 

Sometimes the best finds don't mention ancestors at all.